Some 153 House Democrats signed a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman calling on him to "take action to ensure better outcomes in our ongoing negotiation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), particularly in countries that have lengthy histories of denying workers their rights, such as Vietnam."
Reps. George Miller, (D-CA), Mark Pocan, (D-WI) and Loretta Sanchez (D-CA), circulated the letter among their Democratic colleagues, urging them to join the call to protect worker rights, most notably in Vietnam, but also in Malaysia, Brunei, and Mexico, where violations of worker rights also persist.
"It is...critical to ensure that ongoing TPP negotiations lead to improved outcomes for workers in the TPP based on basic labor rights and human dignity," the lawmakers wrote to Froman.
Workers in Vietnam face extraordinary abuses, including forced or indentured child labor. Workers in Malaysia, the Department of State reports, have their rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining "severely restricted," including prohibitions on union membership by workers in several sectors, significant limits on the right to strike, and governmental interference in union registration.
Joining lawmakers on a media call today, CWA President Larry Cohen applauded House Democratic Caucus members for standing up for workers at home and abroad.
"We want 21st century trade that benefits U.S. workers, consumers and communities and that gives labor standards as much standing as corporate and investor rights," Cohen said. The Obama administration cannot go forward with some version of 'Boehner trade' that relies on Republican support for passage. The 153 Democrats signing this letter have made it clear: they will not support 'fast track' authorizing legislation until they have read and approved the negotiated TPP deal."
The 153 members of Congress told Froman that "the Administration must refrain from validating such woefully inadequate labor norms and the final agreement should be withheld until these countries embrace the need to reform their labor laws and move aggressively to implement them. We must apply pressure to countries like Vietnam and others to improve their conditions and laws to protect and empower their working class, and to ensure that the American marketplace is not flooded with goods produced by workers lacking fundamental rights," they wrote.
They also cited recent Vietnamese media reports of the country's senior advisor on international trade, Truong Dinh Tuyen, saying that Vietnam would not accept a TPP requirement that workers be allowed to establish independent labor unions, but would instead accept a compromise that devolved some power to local unions.
"We were concerned that Mr. Tuyen seems to believe that halfway measures will be adequate. That is not the case. All TPP member nations, including Vietnam, must fully comply with TPP labor obligations, including related to freedom of association and collective bargaining," the letter said.